Moldova vote boosts peace hopes

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The Independent Online
MOLDOVAN voters' decisive rejection of parties pressing for union with neighbouring Romania has sparked hopes of a peaceful settlement to the dispute over the predominantly Russian-speaking breakaway Trans-Dnestr region in the east of the country.

'Moldova will no longer cause headaches for Europe,' said Petru Luchinsky, leader of the Agrarian Democratic Party (ADP), after early returns from Sunday's parliamentary elections showed his party had won about 40 per cent of the vote. 'The (new) parliament will concentrate on establishing peace.'

Establishing peace in the country - especially given the legacy of the bloody clashes of 1992 in which hundreds of people lost their lives - will be easier said than done. But, according to most Moldovans, the election result has improved the chances.

'One of the main reasons the Trans-Dnestr region broke away was fear of an imminent union with Romania and Russian-speakers' anxieties that they would become second- class citizens,' said a Western observer in Moldova's capital, Chisinau. 'The more moderate tones of the ADP may facilitate genuine dialogue between the two sides.'

A similarly optimistic tone was struck yesterday by the Trans-Dnestr separatists. Despite having boycotted the election, representatives of the 700,000-strong community said the result 'gives hope for an equal partnership'.

With votes still being counted, the ADP looks set to form the government in coalition with the ex-Communist, pro-Russian Socialist bloc, which won about 20 per cent of the vote. Among its priorities will be improving relations with Moscow, which supports the Trans-Dnestr separatists, and with the Commonwealth of Independent States, on which Moldova depends for nearly all its trade and energy supplies. It will also take a much softer line with the Russian-speaking majority in Trans-Dnestr, which declared itself a separate state in 1992 and whose existence is maintained due to the presence of around 7,000 Russian troops.

Leaders of the defeated pro-Bucharest Popular Front and the Congress for Intellectuals yesterday warned Moldova might slip back into 'totalitarianism', and that a bold economic reform programme begun last year could be reversed.

ADP and Socialist leaders dismiss such charges, denying they plan to grant Trans-Dnestr's demands for independence or to sacrifice Moldova's own independence - either to Romania or Russia.